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The Jerk (1979) – DVD Review

The Jerk DVD


Written by Michael Elias, Carl Gottlieb, & Steve Martin, based on a story by Gottlieb & Martin
Directed by Carl Reiner
Starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, M. Emmet Walsh, Bill Macy, Jackie Mason


  • “Tonight You Belong to Me” ukelele lesson
  • The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Production notes

Released by: Universal.
Rating: R.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Martin fans or fans of the movie should own.

[ad#longpost]Navin Johnson has had a rough life. He came from humble beginnings in Mississippi, where he was traumatized to learn that he was different from the African-American family who adopted him, and would remain a white man forever. From there, he sets out into the world, trying to learn about love, fortune and humility. He’s also trying to avoid a loonbag killer who picks him as his victim just at random. And he’s trying to overcome the fact that the title is right. He’s a jerk.

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. The movie is damn funny. A lot of people adore this film more than I, and it’s easy to see why: it’s Martin’s first starring role in a flick. And it’s where he’s making the transition from stand-up guy to comedic movie star. Later he would transition to sad family-friendly comedic movie star, but that’s another rant for another time. Here, it’s almost pure mainlined Martin at his weirdest, but with Carl Reiner in the chair to offer some finesse where needed.

If there’s anything that puts this not at the top of Martin’s list of films for me, it’s the fact that it really is just a bunch of bits strung together showcasing Martin. Which is exactly what it was designed to be, so you can’t really fault it in the least. That’s the type of animal it is. If Martin and the quality of said bits weren’t so damn good, it would have fallen apart…but he brings the funny so hard and fast it keeps it all together. Myself, I’m more fond of the more plot-driven films, like Roxanne, and the more subtle Lonely Guy. But that’s me. But regardless, you’ve got fine turns from the always good Peters (whose “trumpet solo” is still one of my favorite moments) and always necessary Walsh as the nutcase. And Carl Gottlieb making an appearance as Iron Balls. Priceless. And of course, the exit sequence which has entered into Legendary Comedic Bits History. And this lamp.

The features are a bit of a disappointment. Sure, it’s cute to have a lesson in how to play “Tonight You Belong to Me” on the ukelele. Cute, but unless you own a ukelele, not entirely useful. And the footage that comprises The Lost Filmstrips is amusing and surreal, consisting of such cruel spectator sports as Plant Abusing and Fish Teasing, but it doesn’t last for long and then it’s over with. Beyond that, it’s just the trailer and the production notes.

Now, complaining about the lack of newly created features on a DVD is boring. Sure, it would be nice to have a commentary from Reiner and Martin. I’m sure it’s a matter of Universal being willing to sell out the dough necessary to get the two of them in a studio in front of a print of the film and a mic. Even a retrospective would have been nice, sure. But here’s what always bugs me. When you have stuff already lying around, why don’t you just throw it on the disc? There are scenes from the film that showed up on the cable edit that aren’t in the original theatrical cut. I’m not expecting a “re-worked director’s cut,” but just additional scenes? Would that have killed them to include?

Anyway, yes, the main thing is this release beats the pants off the last one, just because it’s actually in widescreen. So there is some solace to be had in that. A bit. If you’re a huge fan of Martin or the film itself, then there’s no shame in grabbing this. But rent it if you just want to reacquaint yourself while waiting for a better edition.

1 comment

  • I had this movie in my “queue” at Blockbuster Online and was SOOOOO excited when it arrived. Then, as I watched it, I realized I had only ever seen the TBS Bastardized version. I never really learned the dog’s real name. I never really understood half the movie. As it turns out, that’s a really funny movie.

    And it contains two of my favorite quotes of all time:
    “I was born a poor black child in Mississippi..”
    “It’s these cans! He hates these cans!”